I just experienced my very first traditional Greek Easter, and I didn’t even have to go to Greece. Instead, I headed out to Long Island with a Greek friend of mine who had generously invited me to join in her family’s celebrations.
It was a sumptuous affair, complete with all the traditional elements of a Greek Easter, and here are some of my favourites:
Bright red eggs. Everybody gets one and then a traditional game called tsougrisma is played. It reminded me a lot of the game of conkers we played in Ireland as kids. Everybody pairs up and hits the other person’s egg with theirs – top to top and bottom to bottom. Once your egg is smashed on both ends, you’re out. The winner then moves on to the next person with an uncracked egg and the game begins again, until there is only one person left with an uncracked egg. The winner left holding the good egg is destined to have a very lucky year. My egg got smushed in the first round.
Tsoureki – the traditional bread of Greek Easter celebrations; it is a sweet eggy yeast bread flavoured with orange and exotic ingredients such as mahlepi (made from ground cherry stones) and mastiha (ground resin from Mastic trees that grow on Chios). The little pearls of resin, before they are ground up, are called Tears of Mastic, because legend has it the mastic trees started weeping when Romans tortured and killed Agios Isidoros, an Egyptian living in Chios, for worshipping at a Christian church. Tragic as the legend of mastiha may be, it lends an exotic flavour to this sweet, gently-fragranced and delicious bread, which is braided in a circle and has a red egg baked into the top.
Spanakopita – now I’ve had spanakopita before, in fact I practically lived off that and watermelon during my times in Greece, but I’ve never had the home-made variety. The filo pastry was melt-in-your-mouth magic, with just the right ratio of cheese to spinach and drizzled with delicately-flavoured olive oil.
And last, but certainly not least, another divine filo creation, Galaktobouriko. The creamiest of custards, semolina-based, is sandwiched between flaky filo and drizzled with syrup. The key to this pastry’s success was that it wasn’t overly sweet. All too often I find custard-based pastries cloyingly sugary, but here the egg custard had only a suggestion of sweetness, allowing the other flavours to shine. It was ridiculously delicious and impossible to resist having a second piece. Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard to resist.
That reminds me, I have got to email my friend for the recipe. Happy Greek Easter, everyone.